Chapter 1 Summary: The First Humans, Prehistory–3500 BC
This chapter begins by explaining that history is explored mostly through written records. The period prior to writing is considered prehistory. Next it describes how historians learn about this time through archeology, “the study of past societies,” and anthropology, “the study of human life and culture.” Included in this section is a discussion of how artifacts and fossils are dated through radiocarbon dating, thermoluminescence dating, and the use of ancient DNA.
The next section discusses how humans evolved and changed through time. The author points out that as science improves methods of research, what is known about early people may change significantly. The author then explains how people changed from hominids (upright walking creatures) to Homo erectus (upright human beings) to Homo sapiens. Following this is a brief description of Neanderthals and then an explanation of how Homo sapiens spread throughout the world. This section ends with a discussion of hunter gatherers of the stone age, including their way of life, roles of men and women, adaption techniques, fire usage, how the ice ages affected them, and how they created the art from which historians have gained much of their knowledge of this time period.
The Neolithic Revolution and the Rise of Civilization
The Neolithic period, from 8000 BC to 4000 BC, is a time when early people changed their way of life from being primarily hunter-gatherers to being farmers and keepers of animals. The author describes early methods for growing crops such as wheat, barley, rice, yams, and bananas. He then explains how this enabled villages to form in Europe, India, Egypt, China, Meso-America, and Southwest Asia. The author then discusses how the change in acquiring food affected many aspects of human lives, including relationships between men and women, and also how it resulted in the end of the Neolithic age.
This chapter concludes with a discussion of the emergence of civilization. This included the rise of cities, growth of governments, increase in religion’s significance, establishment of new social structures, and the use of writing.